Ever since seminary I’ve heard whispers and murmurs on one topic, but never open discussion. On most theological subjects in the Reformed Community there is plainly agreement or disagreement, yet when it comes to the Lord’s Supper this doesn’t seem to be true. Sure we learned about the three views in the Reformation: Consubstantiation, the Memorial View, and Calvin’s view. While we learned that the Lutherans hold to consubstantiation, things got very muddy, after that. This confusion seemed to come in part because there is disagreement about what Calvin and Zwingli (the proposed herald of the memorial view) actually believed on the issue, and because there is also disagreement with these two views but often there is not really any alternative position put forth.
Let me ask the church leaders reading this post a few questions (these aren’t the three big questions, I’ll get to those in a minute.) First, during your ordination exam were you ever asked, “what happens in the Lord’s supper?” Second, if such as question was asked do you think there would be consensus? Finally, would you feel comfortable giving a 30 minute presentation explain your view of the Supper to members of your Presbytery? To members of Reformed churches: has your pastor ever taught a class on the subject? (Not just a few comments in a larger topic but a whole class.)
For some reason a theology of the Lord’s Supper has been neglected, but before taking the time to write on the subject, I believe the Reformed community needs to answer three questions about the Supper, in order to define our objectives and ground rules.
Is the Lord’s Supper a topic worth Discussing?
As a church planter, I was forced into the situation of helping to establish a pattern of practices concerning the Lord’s Supper, and so I had to ask these question but many leaders are not in this situation, and seem less concerned with the topic.
Across ecumenical lines, topics like gender roles and ecclesiology are often publicly discussed. Even Baptism, an issue which divide groups like The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel, seems to be worthy of some public discourse. Yet, the theology of the Supper seems almost entirely untouched.
Within the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition, there are numerous ongoing debates. We are talking about Creation issues, covenantal structures, as well as issues of church practice, gender roles, and many others topic, but it seems that we aren’t that interested in coming to a greater consensus on our views of the Supper. This leads me to ask: Is the Lord’s Supper a topic that is worthy of more Discussion?
Is there Disagreement?
In the PCA some leaders seem to assume that there is a general consensus, on the matter. At the same time, others seems to be cautiously aware of strong disagreement held on the issue. The funny part is that it seems like neither side is very interested in give much attention to the topic. So which is it? Do we have agreement and therefore don’t need to discuss the matter? or do we have such strongly disagreement that even openly talking about it might result in a major crisis in the Reformed church?
What Happens if we find there is strong Disagreement?
Of course this question has more than one answer depending on the context. Along ecumenical lines, I would assume that if we found that there was strong disagreement on the Supper that it might fall into what some call “open handed” issues, things which might practically divide us in terms of local ministries (we have Baptists and Presbyterians), but don’t make us adversaries.
The answer within the Presbyterian tradition seems to be far more vague. Is the issue important enough for overtures, and even censure if necessary? Should we be asking ministerial candidates their take on the Nevin and Hodge debate? Should we expect them to explain their view of what happens at The Supper?
Maybe the reason we aren’t talking about the Supper more is because we are worried about the answer to this question. With jumping into this example, if some people think that one’s view on women serving in the deaconate is important enough for you to be ineligible for ordination in the PCA, would a similar formula follow after a discussion of communion?
I want to hear from you! How would you answer these questions?